The rabbi and the vampir.., p.1
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       The Rabbi and the Vampire (A Short Story), p.1

           Darren Stein
 
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The Rabbi and the Vampire (A Short Story)
The Rabbi and the Vampire

  Darren Stein

  Copyright 2011 Darren Stein

  ****

  I was not there when the girl came sprinting past the darkened workshops and tanneries towards the Juden Strase, her feet mercifully numb as they slid and slit against the icy cobble stones beneath them. I would see her injuries later - would mop up the blood that she trailed across the floor from her ravaged soles - would tend to the scratches that had torn across her hands and arms from where he had tried to snatch her.

  I could imagine her desperately weaving between the putrid reek of steaming vats, broken crates and rusting mechanical devices like a mouse trying to escape a toying tomcat. The terror which drove her through our little gate, left half-ajar and unguarded due to years of mutual conditioning from those both within and without, must have been incentive indeed. And so, her pretty, blonde hair trailing in the wind, she had run to the only light she could see, and crashed through the door into my grandfather’s synagogue to the mirrored horror of those inside.

  ‘Please!’ she cried, coming to rest on her knees before the crowd of bearded men, who like some pastiche from the fairytale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, stared down at the this alien creature – young and beautiful and in obvious distress. They with their yarmulkes and tzit-tzit; all dressed in modest black suits with only their age, height and girth appearing to differentiate them. She, conversely, wore a white dress, its hems and arms stained with blood and wet from the freezing snow.

  ‘Please!’ she begged, ‘I seek sanctuary.’

  All eyes turned, as they naturally would on any complex question, to the Rabbi - my grandfather - who had risen from his chair at the end of a long table covered in holy books. His dark, brown eyes stared at the young woman from his own worn and startled face. He stroked his long silver beard anxiously and then appeared to make a decision.

  ‘Bring bandages, boiling water and honey to help disinfect her wounds,’ he said to the men standing beside him.

  ‘Abraham,’ he turned to me, ‘go and get your mother and sister. It is not right for us to be alone with this woman.’ So begrudgingly, then only ten-years-old, I had run back to my home to do as my grandfather had asked. My mother, already dozing after the day’s exertion, stirred uncomfortably, but followed me with my sixteen-year-old sister to the synagogue.

  When we returned, someone had placed the girl in a chair and fetched a glass of water from which she was drinking eagerly. Levi Cohen, one of my grandfather’s students had lifted her legs upon a saddlebag and was examining the wounds beneath her feet.

  ‘There are pieces of glass wedged between the webbing of her toes,’ he grimaced. ‘She will need to have them removed to prevent serious infection.’

  A pained expression crept across the girl’s face. ‘Please,’ she said, addressing my grandfather who she now recognised as a leader. ‘Please grant me sanctuary.’

  My grandfather looked at her thoughtfully and then sat down on a chair beside her so that he could speak to her face to face. He seemed more comfortable now that my mother and sister were there.

  ‘We cannot give you sanctuary, my dear,’ he said, ‘because we have no such thing as sanctuary. Your people, I regret to say, have never recognised the sanctity of our places of worship and study. They have attacked our synagogues and yeshivas with complete disregard for their holiness, and so, I cannot offer you the protection of a place that will be recognised as off-limits to those who might wish to harm you.’

  The girl’s eyes dropped in despair.

  ‘What we can do,’ my grandfather continued, ‘is hide you.’

  The girl looked up hopefully, ‘Can you? I mean, I am not sure if you can?’

  ‘Then you will need to tell us who exactly you are fleeing from?’

  She gave him a fearful look, and glanced around the room at the bearded faces of the congregation.

  ‘Perhaps, gentlemen,’ said my grandfather to his congregants, ‘it would be best if you all went home? My family and I are more than able to care for this young girl.’

  ‘We thank you for thinking of our safety, Rabbi,’ motioned one of the elderly men, ‘but whatever danger she has brought into the ghetto will affect us all. There is no point trying to martyr yourself.’

  ‘Indeed,’ my grandfather nodded, ‘you are right. But perhaps we can diminish the impact of it.’

  The men looked at him uncertainly.

  ‘Please,’ he said reassuringly, ‘if there are to be consequences it would naturally be better if you were all with your families. Go home through the rear exit and say psalms for us. We will meet again for prayers in the morning.’

  So once again, they bowed to his wishes and shuffled off in silent conversation, looking back with concern at the young women and our little family gathered around her.

  My mother took over the binding of her feet while my sister washed the blood from her arms and I tried as gently as possible to bandage them with linen strips.

  ‘I think,’ she said, ‘it was an aristocrat.’

  My grandfather raised his eyebrows while my mother began to shake nervously.

  ‘He came into the city from the castle in the mountains. He told my parents he was a relative of the Count.’

  My grandfather watched her apprehensively.

  ‘I see,’ he said after a few moments hesitation. ‘I understand you must be very frightened.’

  She was breathing quickly again, ‘I think he means to kill me. I think he wanted to...eat me.’

  My sister squealed and then brought her fist to her mouth out of embarrassment. My mother turned to my grandfather.

  ‘Papa, she cannot stay here! She is a danger to us all,’ she cried.

  My grandfather placed his hand reassuringly on my mother’s shoulder.

  ‘I understand the nature of the situation,’ he smiled, ‘and I appreciate your advice. It is not without its virtue.’ He then turned to my sister.

  ‘Chana. Get this young lady one of your Sabbath dresses.’ My sister’s eyes widened in horror. ‘I will buy you a new one.’ And though my sister seemed uncomfortable with this prospect, the pay-off seemed to appease her and she hurried home to pick out one of her least favourite outfits.

  I took-over my sister’s role as nurse and tried my best to wash and clean her wounds with a moist cloth before daubing honey over the cuts and scratches. As the girl winced at my touch, I bandaged her arms with twists of fabric, but she did not resist. Far worse was my mother’s attempts to draw the splinters and glass from out of her savaged feet, and I could see her biting her lip in order to resist the temptation to withdraw her limbs or escape the pain.

  When my sister returned with some clothing, my grandfather stood and ushered me towards the corner of the room. There we stood staring at the blank wall, neither speaking nor moving as the women helped her into the clean garments.

  ‘Thankyou,’ she said, notably to my sister who she recognised for having given up one of her dresses.

  My sister smiled and nodded politely, but did not speak, looking at her beautiful visage with caution.

  ‘You have cared for the stranger,’ my grandfather purred, ‘a great mitzvah – a good deed. And now you must return home,’ he said earnestly.’

  ‘But papa...’ my mother tried to argue, but my grandfather raised a finger, and as always my mother showed complete obedience. ‘Try to mop up the blood with some lemon juice to hide the smell, and then hurry home. Lock the doors and do not open them until I return. You too can say psalms for me,’ he said, assuring her that this would be the most constructive act she could perform.

 
‘Abraham,’ he then turned to me. ‘Before you join your mother and sister, you will show this young lady the recess where you and your friends hide behind the Aaron Kodesh. Help her lie comfortably and then wall the space around her with holy books before pulling back the bookshelf to conceal the opening.’

  I frowned as I slowly processed all he had asked me and then directed the young girl towards the raised platform at the end of the room. The Aaron Kodesh housed the holy Torah in what amounted to a curtained cupboard. Behind it was a small recess just large enough for two adults to sit side-by-side. Limping and clearly in a lot of pain, the girl struggled to crawl behind the wooden fixture, her new dress snagging on a wooden splinter and ripping her replacement clothes. Then suddenly from outside came a loud piercing screech as if from some type of animal. The girl froze in terror and looked back at my grandfather.

  ‘You will have to hide with her, Abraham,’ said my grandfather earnestly. ‘Quickly now, and mind you do not make a sound, no matter what you see or hear.’

  I pulled the bookshelves closed behind us and stacked some
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